In the four centuries since Romeo and Juliet was first performed, Shakespeare's tragic tale of "star cross'd lovers" has been recast into formats from high school comedy to musical theater. Now, at long last, we have the whimsical Disney version in a new animated family film produced by rock star Elton John and set in the world of garden gnomes. Here's a look at Gnomeo and Juliet.
"Top of the morning!"
"Your tulips are looking a little limp, aren't they?"
"I don't like what you are incinerating."
Two households, both alike in dignity; well, 'dignity' for the cartoon world. It is not in fair Verona, but in a quiet English neighborhood where we lay our scene, in the gardens of next door neighbors Lord Redbrick and Lady Bluebury. Each flowerbed is populated with those classic English garden decorations: little statues of gnomes. His have red caps, hers wear blue and they are bitter rivals. This being the animated version, the gnomes come to life when people are not watching; but when red-capped Juliet meets blue-wearing Gnomeo, the ancient grudge is forgotten.
Gnomeo and Juliet is directed and co-written by animation veteran Kelly Asbury, who makes no apologies to William Shakespeare or to the bard's, perhaps, most malleable tale.
"I think what's universal about the story of Romeo and Juliet is every one has grown up and done something that was rebellious against their parents' wishes, be it love or something else," Asbury says. "We are all rebellious teenagers. Sometimes we grow out of it and sometimes we don't. So one of the underlying themes of the entire movie is [something] everyone can relate to ..…and it's true in many stories like Romeo and Juliet, like Twilight or something."
"What are you doing here?"
"I don't know. Um ..…I came here to ..…well, I don't know, I just wanted to see you again."
"Are you crazy? If Dad finds you, he'll bury you under the patio!"
English actress Emily Blunt is the voice of fair Juliet and says she drew on her experience playing the original tragic version on stage.
"I actually did find it very helpful," admits Blunt. "When I did Romeo and Juliet I was about 19 and it was my third professional job and I had a really wonderful director who encouraged a different view of Juliet: that she is not a wilting, delicate flower ..…that she is actually hot-tempered just like her dad and she is decisive and rebellious. When I met Kelly and all these guys it was really great to hear that they really wanted to have a tough, little Juliet like the one I had done on stage."
As bold Gnomeo to Blunt's Juliet: the voice of Scottish-born James McAvoy, who has played the young lover in several stage productions.
"I always see Romeo as being a bit of a pain in the backside," says McAvoy, "and very in love with himself. He's got a lot of time for himself and some time for the ladies …..as long they've got time for him; and then something massive happens to him. So that was important to kind of make him a little bit 'cock of the walk;' but also Gnomeo in this is a little bit of an amalgamation between Romeo and Mercutio ..…but we don't have that Mercutio character, that leader of the pack, which Romeo isn't, but Gnomeo is, so it was handy to have an appreciation of who Mercutio was as well and that weight of expectation not only to conform to what your family wants, but also just to show off for your blue pals."
"If he won't come out, I guess we'll just have to go in."
"The red garden? No one has ever been in there."
"Well then, I say it's about time someone did."
Gnomeo and Juliet has been 12 years in the making. That's how long it's been since executive producer Elton John first proposed the film that he believes is as relevant today as the original was in the sixteenth century.
"I do feel as though there is a message in this film: we spend so much time hating each other because our parents tell us that's what we have to do," says John. "I think this is a storyline saying we should all get on. Even if we're Catholic or Protestant or Muslim or Jews, if we're Democrats or Republicans, if there is any message that can come out of this film -- which is purely coincidental and the timing is coincidental -- then I'm all for it because that is what life is all about. It is not about hatred."
The voice cast of Gnomeo and Juliet also features Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Hulk Hogan, Ozzy Osbourne and Patrick Stewart (as Will Shakespeare). The soundtrack includes classic hits and new songs by producer Elton John.